Sunday, December 20, 2020

On the Heaviest of Days, How Do You Carry a Lightness Within? Here's How.

Ok, it finally happened!  The first folks got the Covid vaccine this week!   And in the next month, 20 million more should be getting that little shot.  Hallelujah!  But hold on.  That still leaves another 280 million more to go.  And that’s just in this country.   Ok, so yes, we now see a little light at the end of this long dark tunnel.  But we know.   This tunnel still has a ways to go.  And some of its darkest places may lie before us. 

But we’re tired aren’t we?   We’re tired of the social isolation.  We’re tired of the low-grade stress, going around wearing masks and keeping our distance.  We’re tired of this new abnormal that has taken so much from us, and Christmas no less!   So yes, the dawn is coming!  The pandemic is going to be ending. But that old saying rings truer than ever.  Yes, it is always darkest before the dawn.   So how do we make it through that darkness before the dawn?  No, that’s not the question.  We know we’ll make it.   But how do you make it with hope, with peace, with joy even?   How do you do that?  How do we do that?  How do we let the light shine forth even on the darkest of days?

In the words of this prayer, a prayer written to a community going through its own very dark days, God tells you.  For in this prayer, God opens the way to how you can have a fullness of heart even in the darkest of these days?   How can that be?  Here God shows the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

Ephesians 3:14-21      

How do you have a fullness of heart even on the darkest of days?  God tells you here.   The more you know the light of the love inside, the more powerful it shines to cut through whatever darkness you face on the outside.   And trust me, these Ephesians were facing some darkness.  Paul is facing some darkness.  He is suffering imprisonment, literally sitting on death row.   And his imprisonment is shaking these Ephesians up.   After all, they are facing persecution too, along with poverty and sickness.  They are facing serious dark times, and they are scared.  

Yet what does Paul pray for?  Does he pray for protection from their enemies?  Does he pray for deliverance from their hardships?   No, Paul doesn’t mention that at all.   Now, Paul certainly cares about that, so why doesn’t he pray for it.  Because Paul knows.  If they get this prayer answered, no darkness they face out there will ever defeat them.  

And Paul prays this prayer fervently, passionately.  He gets down on his knees to pray it.  You see, in those days, folks prayed standing up.  So, when Paul tell you he is kneeling, he is telling you how intense his prayer was.  And what does he ask?   He prays that “according to the riches of his glory, that they will be strengthened in their inner being.”

And in those two words “inner being,” you find the key to this prayer.  You see.  If in your inner life, you have a strength; if in your inner life, you carry a peace; if in your inner life, you have a power, outward circumstances don’t stand a chance of shaking you.   If your inner life is strong, you can handle anything in your outward circumstances. 

But hold on.  Why is Paul asking for that?   These folks follow Christ.  Don’t they already have that strength in their inner being?  Don’t they already have Christ dwelling in their hearts?   Why is Paul asking for what they already have? 

It’s because, it’s one thing to know something.  It’s a whole other thing to experience it.  Let’s say someone gives you a huge plot of land, gorgeous fields, some forest, a stream running through it.   You know you have it.  But knowing that doesn’t compare to walking in it, touching the trees, sticking your hand in that brook, and realizing all this is mine.   For your inner life to be strong, you can’t simply know the truth.  You’ve got to experience it.  And that is what Paul is praying for. 

Let’s take this past week.  I knew that vaccines were coming.  But when I saw the trucks leaving the vaccine plant in Michigan; when I saw pictures of folks actually getting the shot; it felt awesome.  It felt real.  This thing was really happening. This pandemic was going to end.

Now a couple of weeks from now, I won’t feel that same sort of thrill.  That’s normal.  None of us feels that intensity of emotion all the time, not even with our own kids or spouses or family members or close friends   Heck, if you did, you could hardly function.     

But when you do feel it, the feeling stays with you.  I’ll remember seeing those trucks roll out and the people cheering, seeing that nurse in Long Island getting the first shot.  I’ll remember the feeling it gave me.  Feelings like that sustain you.  Whether it be joy at realizing the vaccine is finally here or those moments when you feel deeply the love of someone close to you, those feelings sustain you.   They feed you.  They strengthen you.  Yes, you knew that love was there, but when you feel it, you know it at a level so much deeper.   

And that is why Paul is praying with such passion. He yearns for these believers in Ephesus to feel the deep reality of what they already have.    He knows.  When you grasp God’s love like that, it roots that love deeper than ever.   And everyone needs that 

The Welsh preacher, Martin Lloyd Jones, would counsel troubled Christians and ask them this question.  He’d ask.   “Are you a Christian?”   They’d often respond.  “Well, I’m trying to be.”   And he’d reply. “You don’t get it, do you?”    Being a Christian isn’t something you try to be.   It’s a status, a standing, a reality you already have.    But too many times, even Christians don’t get this reality.  They don’t realize, in the depth of their being how much God loves them.   And if you’ve never felt it, it’s hard to trust that love is there, especially when you struggle or doubt.  

But if you do experience it, the power of that love, it will carry you through anything.  So, Paul prays for that, for an experience of God’s love that not only will you never forget, but the power of that experience will change you forever.  And you pray for it, because in the end, the experience, it comes as a gift. 

You don’t earn it.  But if you ask, it will come.   And you keep asking until it comes.   The great missionary pioneer, Hudson Taylor, kept one prayer in his Bible as a bookmark.  The prayer’s first line went like this.   Lord Jesus make thyself to me, a living, bright reality.  And every day, several times day, Hudson Taylor prayed that.  He asked.  For asking is where it always begins, with simply saying, God, make yourself real to me.   That’s why I’ve given you all these prayers these past weeks –

Search me O God or Break me where I need to be broken or Here am I send me.  Those prayers carry power if you pray them.  And now this one, God, make yourself real – let me grasp the love. 

And when Paul says grasp, he means it.  This word in Greek literally means to wrestle someone to the ground and rob them.    Now why does Paul use this word?  It’s because as you go through life, you can miss the power of God’s love unless you literally grab it and wrestle its reality into your very heart. 

A few weeks ago, I was putting some things away in my bedroom at home, and I saw a folded piece of paper on my bureau.  I wondered.  What is that?  And I opened it to find a note that my son Patrick had written before he and my wife left for Canada.   He wrote in his own six-year-old struggling script these words.  Dad, you are awesome. I will miss you so much in Canada. Love, Patrick.   And seeing those words, remembering him writing it, grasping it in my hand, it was amazing.   I was literally grasping the reality of his love for me.  And doing that, in fact looking at it right now, just feels me with such joy.   

And what I experienced in grasping that note, you can experience in grasping the breadth, length, height and depth of God’s love for you. 

Maybe the breadth means that you grasp no place exists on the face of the earth, where Jesus’ love can’t reach you.  Maybe the length means you grasp that even if you run away, Jesus will go to any length to bring you home.   Have you ever experienced that?  You’ve run away from Jesus, from his love for you, only to find his love seeking you out, searching for you, drawing you home.    Maybe grasping the depth means remembering how Jesus went all the way down, into the very depths of human pain, even death itself, to deliver you.   Maybe you remember the words of the concentration camp survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, who said, “There is no pit so deep that Jesus is not deeper still.”   Maybe the height points to where Jesus is bringing you, into the full glory and beauty of all that God is.      Do you see how grasping onto the love like that has the power to shift your perspective on everything?    

Your worries, your anxieties, your self-pity, your low self-esteem, your jealousies and resentment, no outward shift in your circumstances will resolve those things.  But knowing this love will.  Because if you are not rooted and grounded in love, then your life will become rooted and grounded in fear.  And fear blinds you to the truth.  It blinds you to the truth of this wondrous love that lies all around you, even on the darkest of days.  But the more Jesus roots his love in you, the more you will see clearly what is true and what is not.    And you will grasp how wondrous, how infinite, how far-reaching Jesus’ love is, how utterly surrounded by his love you already are.  And in that love, you will discover a fullness welling up inside you, one that can hardly be contained, that bit by bit will cast every fear and dark place out of you even on the darkest of days.      Then these final words of the prayer will become more real than ever.  You will discover that this power at work in you can and will accomplish abundantly far more than anything you could ever ask or imagine or dream.  

Sunday, December 13, 2020

What Prayer Can Change Your Life Like No Other? This One Can.


Go figure.  I’ve been a pastor for close to thirty years, and I talked about the story you’re about to hear only once.  But this year that changed.  I talked about it two months ago, and now I’m talking about it again, twice in less than three months.   That’s kind of weird. 

You see.  This story doesn’t have anything to do with viruses’ or pandemics or any of the exact challenges that we’re facing.   But the story happens during the same sort of time.   It happened in a time in-between, in what’s known as liminal time.  That word liminal comes from a Latin word.  It simply means the threshold that’s part of every doorway.  And that makes sense.  For liminal time is where you’re stuck in exactly that place.  You can’t go back to where you were.   And yet, you can’t go forward to the next thing.  

Now that may not sound like an awesome place to be.  But in places like that, big changes happen, awesome opportunities open, huge growth occurs.  In fact, researchers first coined this word liminal around manhood rituals, ones they saw in certain premodern cultures.   In those cultures, the tribal elders sent boys of a certain age out together for days into the wild, days that profoundly tested them and changed them too.  For when they returned from confronting the dangers, the boys had become men, men bound together by those days in the in-between, in that space where they were no longer boys but not yet men.

These days have a similar quality for us.  We’re all facing the dangers of this pandemic together.   And we know.  The world we knew won’t return. It’s gone.  Yet we don’t know what the new world is going to look like either. We’re living in the in-between.  But in that space, wondrous things happen.   And in this story, one that takes place in such an in-between time, not only does a wondrous thing happen, but in the prayer that it inspires, God shows you the key step in living out these days.  God shows you, in these days, the prayer you must pray, the thing you must ask.  For in that prayer, God will do powerful things.   What is this prayer God calls you to pray?  Here God shows you the way.  Let’s listen to what God has to say.

Isaiah 6:1-8    

What do you do when you’re stuck in the in between?   What do you do, when you know, once this pandemic ends, it won’t be the same world it was?  But you don’t know what sort of world it will be.   You’re stuck in-between.   Here God tells you.  God tells you, even when you’re stuck, you can go.  You can go because God sends you, and God never gets stuck. 

In this story, you can get distracted by all the special effects of the bizarre divine creatures, the ground quaking, the smoke rising up.  But if you focus on that, you’ll miss why God did all those things, why God showed up in such a powerful way.   God showed up like that because King Uzziah had died.  

You see. King Uzziah had been a terrific king, a great leader of the people.   But nobody had confidence that his son, Ahaz, would follow in those footsteps.   Honestly, Ahaz looked way less impressive than his dad.  And Israel still faced huge challenges especially from the Assyrians, who were looking to gobble them up any day now.   So, Isaiah, like the rest of Israel, felt stuck in between.  Uzziah had died, and no one knew what would happen next.   So, in those moments, Isaiah goes to the temple, and when he does, boom!   Boy, does God shows up!   

And God does that for a reason.   God is saying.   Yes, Uzziah’s gone, and no one knows what the future holds.   But, Isaiah, just because you and Israel are stuck in the in-between, God says, don’t think I am.  No, God says.  I am moving.  I’m taking action.  

And that’s a good thing for us to remember in our own in-between days.  Sure, lots of things no one knows.  No one knows when vaccines will be there for everyone or when this pandemic will truly be over or when things will get back to something that looks even a little familiar.   We are stuck in that in-between.   But God isn’t.   God is moving.  God is taking action.  

And as the passage ends, Isaiah starts moving too.  But before you get there, we’ve gotta talk about what comes before. 

This past Monday I was sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.  You see.  Mondays can be treacherous times for preachers, that day and often Sunday afternoons.   Why?  Well, we get tired, and when we get tired, we often get discouraged.  

I remember years ago, one Sunday evening I was feeling really down about the church I was serving in New York.  So, I called my parents.   And that’s when Mom told me about Sears.   She told me.  One Sunday afternoon, she said, your dad (who was a preacher by the way) got so discouraged, he called up a member of the church who managed the local Sears to ask for a job.  Wisely that manager told my dad to sleep on it.  Then, if he felt the same way in the morning they could talk.   And my dad, who was on the call, reluctantly admitted.  “Yes, that happened.”   And hearing that made me feel good.  Sure, that Sunday, I was feeling bad, but I wasn’t yet feeling looking for a job at Sears bad!

And this past Monday, while I wasn’t ready to go job hunting, I was feeling pretty discouraged.  This whole pandemic thing was getting old.  And as much as I enjoyed the quiche last Sunday, I was hoping we’d have a few more folks show up.   Then I started talking to God about those things.  And well, God wasn’t so understanding.  Basically, God said to me.  “You’re healthy You’re Covid-free You’re relatively comfortable. You’ve got things way better than most and you’re discouraged? You gotta be kidding me.”   I had to admit.   God was right.  

Like Isaiah in that temple, I was looking for God’s perspective.  But the first perspective God gave me was on me.  And in that perspective, I didn’t look that good.  And Isaiah gets that same perspective.  And when he does, he realizes.  He doesn’t look that good either.  The whole nation doesn’t look that good.    Yet, when Isaiah faces that, when he faces up, to, as he puts it, his “unclean lips,” what does God do?  God sends his uncleanness, his guilt, his sin away. 

And this past Monday when God gave me that perspective on me, it didn’t weigh me down.   It freed me.  I felt God’s grace, God’s love.  And I realized all the ways God had been watching out for me and how blind I had been in seeing it.    

Like Isaiah, we can lose perspective.  We can look at the challenges of these days and forget all the signs of God’s love and provision that surround us.  You’ve got the beauty of this space we find ourselves in, the folks who have decorated our patio with garland and lights and ornaments, and the video cameras that we already had ready to go when this pandemic started.  You’ve got the fact that this year, a saint of our church, Bonnie Springer, left at her passing, the largest gift we’ve gotten in twenty years, one that has sustained us in so many ways through this pandemic.  You’ve got the fact that in the middle of a pandemic we opened a new branch of our Learning Center at a church in Hollywood Hills, a campus we got rent free!  And last Sunday, you’ve got the fact that we ate quiche!   We have so much to be grateful for!

And when Isaiah gets his newfound perspective, it prepares him for what happens next.  God starts asking some serious questions.   Who are we going to send?  Who’s going to go for us?   And when God asks, Isaiah answers.  Isaiah answers with one of the most powerful prayers you can ever say.   Isaiah says.  “Here am I; send me!”   For when you pray that prayer, you never know what God will do.  

Has anyone heard of Henrietta Mears?  Mears grew up in Minneapolis near the turn of the 20th century.   And in high school, along with a friend, she prayed Isaiah’s prayer.  She told God.  Wherever you send me, I’ll go.  Send me. Soon after, that friend who prayed that prayer with her went to Japan as a missionary, but not Henrietta.  She didn’t go anywhere.  She wondered why.  Nevertheless, she went on.   Though hampered with terrible eyesight, she graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota, and she became a teacher.   For 14 years she taught in high schools throughout Minnesota.  But then she found herself in the in-between.  She loved teaching, but she felt that God had something more.  She just didn’t know what.  So together with her sister, she took a year off to travel the world.  On the way back, they stopped off in California to visit with a pastor they had heard preach in Minneapolis, Stewart MacLennan.   And MacLennan asked Mears to come and direct the education program at his church, Hollywood Presbyterian.  But Mears wasn’t even a Presbyterian.  She was a Baptist.  Nevertheless, she remembered that prayer to go wherever God sent her, even to the Presbyterians.  So, at age 38, she answered the call and moved to Los Angeles.   And what happened after that?   Well, Hollywood Presbyterian was already pretty big. When she came, it had 400 people in its Sunday School alone, but in two years, under her leadership, that Sunday School grew to over 4000.   And since Mears didn’t like the curriculum, she created her own, founding a publishing company, Gospel Light, that exists to this day.   But Mears didn’t stop there.  She founded a camp in the mountains, Forest Home, where young people could go to develop their faith, a camp that 80 years later still serves 50,000 campers every year.  But more than anything else she taught.  Over 35 years at Hollywood Presbyterian, she developed leaders that created ministry organizations that changed the world.   A couple, Bill and Vonette Bright lived in her house for ten years.  And inspired by her, they started an organization, now known as Cru, that currently has 19,000 workers serving in 190 nations around the world.  Or then there’s the young preacher, struggling with doubts, who she invited to speak at Forest Home one weekend.  There, under Mears’ guidance, that preacher resolved his doubts.  And from that weekend at Forest Home, he went on to do a series of meetings in Los Angeles that launched that preacher, Billy Graham on a path that impacted the entire world.   All in all, Mears inspired over 400 people to go into full time Christian ministry from that one church in Hollywood, and through those folks, she influenced millions more.   One of those called her, the grandmother of us all.   This one woman, who never had a child of her own, became the grandmother of millions.  And all because she said to God.  “Here am I.  Send me.”

Now of course, not everyone, who prays this prayer, will become Henrietta Mears. In fact, only one person did, and her name is Henrietta Mears.  But if you pray this prayer, God will act.  God will move.  

For Isaiah, God moved him to preach a message that at the time didn’t seem to impact anyone at all.  God even told Isaiah that no one would listen but to go preach anyway.   And sadly, because Israel didn’t listen, Assyria did conquer them.    But Isaiah kept preaching and thank God he did.  For Jesus used Isaiah’s very words as his own call to ministry.   And after he died and rose again, Jesus’ disciples looked to Isaiah’s word to understand who Jesus was, and what he had come to do.   And those same words inspired artists and musicians throughout the ages to create works such as Handel’s Messiah.   And today, here, thousands of years later, we’re still listening to Isaiah’s words.   And it all began with a simple prayer.  Here I am. Send me. 

In these difficult days, these days in between, you could just keep your head down and try to endure.   Or you could pray this prayer.   You could say to God.   I don’t know what the future holds.  I don’t know what place I have in it.   But here’s my prayer.  “Here I am.  Send me.”    And in that prayer, you’ll never know exactly what God will do.  But you can know this.   God will do something.  God could do something that for all you know, will impact the world for thousands of years to come.   But it all begins with those words.  Here am I. Send me.   So, will you pray it?  In this in between time, will you pray that prayer, the prayer that Isaiah prayed.   “Here am I, Send me.”   And don’t just pray it today.   Pray it every day.  When you wake up, make that your prayer.  “Here am I.  Send me.”  And if you do, buckle up. Because God is moving, and God is sending you.   

Sunday, December 6, 2020

What is the Prayer That No One Wants yet Everyone Needs? This One.

I had no idea.   I thought.   I’m going to hang out for a week, drink some beer, have cool conversations with the monks.   But in that week, I only spoke to one monk, the one who got me my room.  After that, I hardly spoke to anyone, much less drank a beer with them.  The monks intended it that way.   You ate in silence at every meal.   And in between, I spent long hours reading or staring out the window or taking walks in the fields around the monastery. 

Then one night after dinner, I decided to take one more walk, which was weird.  It was drizzling, foggy, miserable, not at all walking weather.  But I went.  And in the middle of that walk, in a wet, muddy field, I fell right on my face.  I didn’t trip.   I went down intentionally.

I can’t describe what happened exactly, but twenty-five years later, I still feel its power.  God didn’t give me some ecstatic, wondrous experience.  No, basically, God took me down, literally to the ground.  And in those moments, painful moments, I saw my shallowness, my fears, my broken places, stuff I didn’t want to ever see.   And I understood like never before the power of the prayer that we’ll talk about today.  This prayer will change your life like no other.  But no one wants this prayer, but everyone, everyone, at some deep level, desperately needs it. 

And once God opens you to it, breaks you open to it, then what power comes, what change, what new life.   So, what is this prayer that no one wants, yet everyone needs?  In these two stories, Jesus points the way. Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

Mark 14:3-9, 22-24

In these two stories, two stories that God placed remarkably close together for a reason, God tells you.   In these stories, God is telling you that if you want to break free, then the breaking has to come first.   You may not want it, but you desperately need it. What do I mean?  

The best example of what I mean happens every day of the week not only in every American city and small town, but in countless places across the world.   There people gather, grateful for the breaking that happened in their life.  Why?  If the breaking hadn’t happened, then they would never have broken free.   What places am I talking about?  I’m talking about the rooms of AA or NA or OA or Alanon or any of the other groups that use the 12 steps created by the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.   If you know about those steps, you know they begin with a painful admission.  You have to admit you are powerless over alcohol or whatever it might be that you are addicted to.  You have to admit that your life has become unmanageable.  Then in step 2, you admit that you need a power greater than yourself to restore you to sanity.

But folks never decide to admit that powerlessness right away.  No, first they face some sort of bottom, a brokenness that wakes them up.   Maybe their spouse leaves them, or the law comes after them or they lose their job or maybe all those things and more or maybe they simply feel empty.  But before they get to those rooms, before they take the steps that break them free, they  go through the breaking first.  

And in this first story, we are seeing that happen, both the breaking and the breaking free.  Do you see what happens here?   A woman crashes a dinner party, not just any dinner party, the dinner party for a prominent religious leader, all to do a stunning thing.  But before we get there, let’s imagine a bit about who this woman might be. 

The perfume gives us a clue. Only two types of people could afford perfume, the super wealthy, and well, prostitutes because it was a professional expense.   And likely, she was the latter, as she crashes a party that a person of wealth could have got invited to.  A parallel story in Luke, implies too that this is the work she did.  But if she was a prostitute, do you think that’s what she wanted to be? Did she grow up dreaming of becoming a prostitute?    Does anyone?  Still somewhere along the way she came to do just that.  Maybe financial desperation drove her there. Maybe, because of abuse and pain in the past, she didn’t feel worthy to do anything else.   But at some point, to survive, she had reconciled herself to it, to this life.  Maybe she even came to rationalize the life it gave her, the money, the seeming independence.  We don’t know.  The Bible doesn’t give her back story.  All we know is whether she was a prostitute or wealthy or likely both, something changed.    She came to a point where she couldn’t do it anymore, where she knew.  She had to make a change.   She had to break free.

And so, in a radical move, she comes to Jesus.   She had almost certainly seen Jesus before, seen him touch the untouchable, welcome the unacceptable, include women among his closest disciples.  Heck, he’s having dinner in the home of a guy named Simon the leper.  So, that gave her the courage to come to him and to break free in a way so stunning that Jesus said.  No one will forget it ever.  So, what does she do?  She anoints Jesus with perfume, lots of perfume.

Now, you might think.  Ok, that’s nice, in sort of a weird way, but stunning, breathtaking, really?   To understand what she did, you need to understand one word about this perfume, denarii.   A denarius represented the median wage of a worker for a day.  And this bottle of perfume cost 300 of those days, a year’s wages.   More than that, she wore that perfume because it served as a subtle advertisement.   It told everyone that she was available…if you were willing to pay.   And when she broke that bottle, a bottle that she had likely earned through work she wanted to never do again, she was saying to Jesus.  I am breaking free.  I am breaking free of this broken life.  And I will not go back to it again.   And I am literally giving it all to you.  I am taking my wages, my very livelihood and emptying it out over you.   

But to get there, to take that radical a step, she had to come to the end of herself, to a moment when she said, “I can’t do this anymore.”   Before the breaking free, the breaking had to come.

You see, that’s the human problem.  We’re all addicts.  We all get dependent on something or someone too much.   It doesn’t have to be bad.  It just becomes bad because we come to love it or depend on it too much.   So, you become addicted to success or a relationship or a person, to the approval of others, to stuff, to food, to financial security, to your kids, to your work, even work for God.  It could be anything.   But when you love that thing too much, it doesn’t belong to you.  No, you now belong to it.  But too often, you can’t see that.  You can’t see how bound you are until, at some point, a breaking comes.

When I walked in that field at the monastery, that’s what happened.  I broke.  I saw how addicted I was to a certain image of myself, how slavishly attached to the approval of others, how shallow and empty it had made me.   And when I fell down into that field, face down to the ground, I was telling God.  I’m broken, and I’m ready.  I’m finally ready for you to break me free. 

Here’s the stunning truth.  In your life, if you want the freedom God yearns to give you, then the breaking comes first.  Think about it.   In times, when you made a radical change to your life, didn’t something like that happen?   The psychiatrist Scott Peck said it well.  He said “The truth is that our finest moments are more likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. Why?  It is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”   What was Peck saying?  Before the breaking free, the breaking comes and sometimes that breaking can be brutal.

Have you ever heard the name, Rick Warren?   He leads a mega church, Saddleback in California.  He wrote a book that sold like crazy, over 35 million copies.  But before all that, Warren broke.  He had started the church.  Things were going great.  He was working insane hours, but the church was growing.  And one Sunday, in mid-December, he was preaching until he couldn’t do it anymore.  I mean that literally.  He stopped mid-sermon.  He couldn’t see the words on the page.  He began to fall.  He had just enough time to call his assistant pastor to take over while he found a seat.  For years, Warren had suffered anxiety and depression, but what happened after that Sunday made those pale in comparison.  He and his family left the next day for Arizona, to stay in a home, his wife’s family owned.  He stayed there nearly a month, over Christmas, struggling with overwhelming depression.  Then he heard these words.  “You focus on building people,” God said, “and I will build the church.”  Do you see what God was saying? Now that you’re broken, Rick, you can break free.  You can let go of this idea you’ve gotta build this, not me.   And Warren returned to Saddleback, still fragile but determined to find a way to do this church thing differently.   And out of that struggle came the small groups that became key to the church’s impact to this day.   But before that happened, the breaking had to come first. (this story is taken from the book - Power of Habit)

But you might ask, okay, that’s wonderful for Warren.  But I don’t wanna be broken.  Sheesh, who does want to be broken?  And that’s when this second story comes in, the story where Jesus breaks the bread, where Jesus pours out the wine.  

Do you see what Jesus is telling you?  He is saying.  This is what I did for you.  I was broken to make you whole.   I was poured out to fill you with my love, my forgiveness, my life.   But you have to let go too.  It’s in the breaking, that the breakthrough comes.   It’s the letting go that opens you to get the gift.   It’s the emptying that frees you to be filled.    You see.  The breaking is not the end of the story.  The healing is.  The love is.  The filling is.

But the breaking comes first.  Why?  The breaking breaks your delusions.  It breaks the delusion that whatever you are looking towards, loving too much could ever fill you.  And when the delusions break, then you see.  You see the love God poured out for you, how in Jesus God broke himself for you.  You see the truth of this love, this love that sets you free.    And when you see that, well, everything else pales in comparison.  So whatever needs to be broken and emptied, let it be.   For in that breaking, that emptying, Jesus will break you free.